When I first became a believer in Jesus, I was taught that the way to witness to Jewish people was to cite the many messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. Even though I personally had not been influenced by those prophecies, I accepted the wisdom of those who discipled me, and of my teachers at the Jewish Missionary Training Institute in New York, and yet again of my teachers in Bible college. They all agreed that the Messianic prophecy approach was best.
But then, as I heard testimonies of other Jewish people who came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), I noticed that the majority did not mention messianic prophecy as the first, or even the most persuasive, factor in their consideration of Jesus. In 1972, I conducted a survey to find out what was the influencing factor. I ascertained that for most Jews, the greatest influence for the gospel at that time was the friendship and witness of a committed Christian.
I conducted two more surveys and each time, a minority of Jewish believers pointed to the Old Testament prophecies as a major influence in their coming to faith. What, then, influenced us? Most of us were persuaded by reading the New Testament and seeing the person of Yeshua through the printed word. Reading the Gospels, we found Him to be so attractive that we were drawn to Him. Once we were drawn to Him, and invested our lives in Him, those messianic prophecies gave us great assurance that Jesus was indeed Jewish, and that we had not abandoned our culture and heritage to follow in the way of the Gentiles.
So, when I meet a Jewish person who wants to know why I believe, I don’t necessarily direct him to Isaiah 53 or Psalm 2 or Micah 5:2. Instead, I ask him to read the Gospel of John. The first six chapters seem to answer many of the objections that we Jews were taught to raise.
That isn’t to say that the prophecies are not powerful, and certainly they compel some who would otherwise dismiss Jesus to consider Him. But what attracts people to the gospel is not the prophecies, but the person of Jesus. No one would be willing to face the rejection from family and friends to follow a prophecy…but only to follow a Person who is like no other.
I was profoundly impressed when I read the Gospel of Matthew and saw what is known as the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five through seven. I greatly admired the ethics of Jesus, but I persuaded myself that Judaism and the rabbinical teachings offered the same thing. Nonetheless, I could see that what Jesus had to say and the way that He said it was far deeper than I had previously thought. Then I came to the tenth chapter of Matthew, and was startled when He said, He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me…and he who will not take up the cross is not worthy of Me” (verses 37, 38). At that point, I set the Bible down, and decided, “This is not for me. I don’t want to go any further.” I knew that I would be headed for a family crisis if I were to allow myself to believe.
Years later my Jewish wife was persuaded of the gospel, and I began rereading the New Testament to show her how silly it was. But in fact, it wasn’t silly, and I couldn’t fault it. When at last I did realize that I believed, it was not because a final piece of the puzzle fit into place—it was simply that despite my intention to disbelieve, I’d been drawn to Jesus, and I could no longer deny that He was true.